Set up a development environment

Development environments have many benefits when using the design system. You can easily override variables in the components and see the changes throughout the system instantly.

If you have any trouble throughout this process you can pick up a pre-made development environment with the design system starter and follow our guide on how to use it.

Initial set up

We need to set up our directory so that we have a clear pipeline for development files and the final product.

Create a docs/ folder. This will hold all of the files needed for the website to render in the browser. Lets move our current index.html or create a new index.html in the docs folder.

We also are going to change the Pancake settings in the package.json file to better suit our project structure. Lets change the location and file name for the sass and JavaScript files.

"sass": {
  "modules": false,
  "location": "src/sass/",
  "name": "au-ds.scss"
"js": {
  "minified": true,
  "modules": false,
  "location": "docs/js/",
  "name": "script.min.js"

When you make changes to the settings of pancake you need to run pancake again. This can be done by running npm install or by running node node_modules/.bin/pancake

The final result should look like:

├─ node_modules/
└─ docs/
  ├─ js/script.js
  └─ index.html
└─ src/sass
  └─ main.scss
  └─ au-ds.scss
├─ package-lock.json
└─ package.json

Packages required for local development

Now that we are set up we can install additional packages:

npm install browser-sync node-sass on-change postcss-cli autoprefixer


With these packages installed we need to update the package.json file so we can run commands that create our local environment.

We need to create npm scripts that do the following tasks:

  • build: runs build:css to compile SASS into CSS and build:autoprefix to autoprefix the compiled CSS
  • build:autoprefix add prefixes to the compiled CSS
  • build:css: compile the SASS into CSS with a compressed output and source maps
  • serve: start the local server and refresh the browser when .html, main.css or script.js files change
  • watch: runs build to create files then serve to start the local server and finally watch:sass for building CSS when SASS changes
  • watch:sass: watch the sass directory for changes and compile SASS to CSS when it does

To do this we edit the scripts in the package.json file:

"scripts": {
  "build": "build:css && npm run build:autoprefix",
  "build:autoprefix": "postcss docs/css/main.css -u autoprefixer -r -m",
  "build:css": "node-sass --output-style compressed --source-map true src/sass/main.scss docs/css/main.css",
  "serve": "browser-sync start --server ./docs -w --files \"./docs/index.html\" \"./docs/css/main.css\" \"./docs/js/script.js\"",
  "watch": "npm run build && npm run serve & npm run watch:sass"
  "watch:sass": "onchange './src/sass/**/*.scss' -- npm run build",

Autoprefixer uses Browserslist, so you can specify the browsers you want to target with the browserlist key in the package.json file as below:

"browserslist": [
  "last 2 versions",
  "ie 8", 
  "ie 9", 
  "ie 10" 

You can now run npm run watch to build your website and watch for any changes to your files. This will start a local development server at http://localhost:3030/.

Make sure to update your index.html file to work with the new path locations for js/script.js and your compiled SASS, css/style.css.